In 1972’s The Candidate, Robert Redford plays an idealistic young politician who is shocked to discover that his campaign manager is using consumer marketing to drive his candidacy. Years later, we’re realizing that not only do candidates need to be sold like brands, but brands need to be sold like candidates. The reason? People don’t buy brands, they join them.
People don’t want to passively receive messages; they expect to be engaged in an active dialogue. They’re not “customers” at all. They’re constituents. As a result, smart marketers are acting more and more like campaign managers, setting aside traditional tactics and embracing the lessons of politics.
Successful brands, like winning politicians, are organized around issues. When Citibank’s credit cards were recently attacked by low-rate cards. Citi responded with a series of ads that shifted the discussion away from interest rates to identity theft. By reframing the issue, they ended up stealing share from the competition.
Like any candidate, your brand will compete for constituent loyalty. And as Al Gore learned, the winner isn’t always the details wonk. The key is to create a story with distinct characters, like the youthful idealist trumping the experienced cynic — such as in 1960s Kennedy/Nixon race.
Apple has always been a master of this technique, from “The computer for the rest of us” to their Mac vs. PC campaign. No matter what Microsoft unveils, PC loyalists always fear a more sophisticated Mac is around the corner.
Though momentum is building, you still won’t win unless your supporters show up. The quality of your infrastructure often defines your brand’s relationship with its constituents.
Ten years ago, the idea of selling shoes online was madness. Then, Zappos.com asked what if instead of avoiding returns, you embraced them? Here’s the return box, here’s the return postage, here’s your money back. Zappos today is a nation unto itself.
Just like any President- or Dogcatcher-elect, the marketer’s task is to keep the promises made — and to make sure everybody sees you doing it, because the last thing you want to do is to supply the issue for the next election.